Firstrade Securities was founded in 1985 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens in New York City, to serve the needs of the local community, especially ethnic Chinese who had immigrated to the United States. More than 30 years later, Firstrade is a feature-rich online discount broker with a wide range of tools and resources. True to its roots, the website is available for trading in Chinese and simplified Chinese as well as in English.
Firstrade offers low fees: $4.95 per stock trade and $0.65 per options contract, and up to $1,000 in commission-free trading for new accounts with a $5,000 initial deposit. There are no minimum balance fees, and you can get $100 in free trades when you open even a small new account. Other standout features are after-hours trading, simple and complex options orders, thousands of available mutual funds, and access to a range of fixed-income products, from U.S. Treasuries to corporates and municipal bond offerings. Compared with other online brokers, Firstrade is a bit bare bones, offering a more utilitarian approach to investing, but at the same time you’re not paying for all the bells and whistles that come with large competitors. That said, the site’s research and tools section is thorough, with a number of useful features not found on most of its competitors.
In this walkthrough, we'll look at Firstrade’s online trading and tools.
Homepage - Founded more than 30 years ago as a neighborhood brokerage shop, Firstrade has grown into a comprehensive online discount broker, with a focus on serving Chinese investors as befits its local roots. Firstrade offers $4.95 stock trades and up to $1,000 in free trades as a bonus for new accounts. In addition to stocks, you can trade options, mutual funds, and fixed-income securities.
Login - When you log on to Firstrade, you'll first be taken to your Home tab – a dashboard that provides an overview of your account balances and holdings. This screen is customizable, and you can add or remove frames as you wish. Along the right you'll notice several boxes that have quick links to frequently visited or important parts of the site. Along the top of the window is a menu bar with a number of tabs to help you navigate the site. We'll look at the My Accounts tab first.
Quick Bar - Along the bottom of every page on the platform is a Quick Bar that you can use to pull up a quote or enter a trade at any time. If you click on a ticker symbol anywhere on the site, for example from your watch list, it will automatically populate the quote box for you. Click on the blue double up-arrow icon to expand or minimize the quote box.
Firstrade Navigator - Firstrade has its own all-in-one trading dashboard, Firstrade Navigator. You'll find the link on the right side under Quick Links. The Navigator is fully customizable – you can add or remove windows or drag them to other locations. That way, you can get all of your account info, portfolio watchlist, news, and charts in one screen.
Messages - You can toggle between your account balance info on the top of the Navigator to your messages and notifications. Just click on the small circle icons highlighted here.
Menu - Right-click on a ticker symbol in the Watchlist or Positions tab to bring up a handy dropdown menu. Enter an order directly in the Navigator or launch news, charts, research and more.
Order Ticket - Load an order ticket by right-clicking on a ticker or select the Stock Order button on the bottom of the window. Enter the order details and click Preview to check that everything is correct – or click Place Trade to send it directly to the market. You can toggle between stock and options orders by using the tab or by selecting Option Order on the bottom of the screen.
Quote - Click on a ticker to bring up a quote overview in the main window of the Navigator. Get price info, stats about the company, and basic analyst sentiment. Use the links above the chart to view a detailed interactive chart, company news, options prices, and research.
Portfolio & Account Management
Balances - You can check on how much money is in your account and how much is available to trade with by following the Balances link under the My Account tab. You'll also get a breakdown of how your funds are allocated among cash, stocks, and options positions.
Positions - The Positions screen shows you the stocks and other investments you currently own. You can customize how you view your portfolio to filter and sort based on a number of metrics. Click on the Dividend Reinvestment Plan link to indicate any dividend-paying stocks you'd like to enroll to buy more shares (at no extra cost).
Gain/Loss - To check how your portfolio is doing, click on the Gain/Loss link in the My Accounts tab. Here you'll see a summary of your short- and long-term realized gains and losses to get an idea of your performance, as well as to anticipate how much you're likely to owe in taxes.
Portfolio Watchlist - The Portfolio Watchlist is where you can see the prices of your favorite stocks and ETFs all in one place. You can add the tickers in your portfolio, or create a list of investments that you're interested in monitoring but don't own yet. For real-time updating quotes for your watch list, select Real-Time Streaming Watchlist in the Research & Tools tab.
History - Go to the History screen for a recap of your past trades and transaction history. You can filter and search for specific transactions to narrow down what you see here.
Profile - If you need to edit or update your profile, change your password, or request that certain trading features be enabled, use the Profile screen under the My Accounts tab.
E-Documents - You can view and download all of your statements, trade confirmations, and tax documents from one easy place under the E-Documents screen, where they're available in PDF format.
Deposit/Transfer - When you're ready to fund your account – or make a withdrawal – use the Deposit/Transfer link to move funds in or out via ACH/electronic funds, by check, or with a bank wire. You can also transfer an existing brokerage account from another firm to Firstrade and link external funding accounts from this screen.
Account Transfer - If you have a brokerage account somewhere else, Firstrade makes it easy to move that entire account over, with no paperwork or fees. When you use the ACAT transfer, select the existing firm name and indicate your account number and the account type. Then, Firstrade will do the rest – moving all of your shares, bonds, mutual funds, options, and cash.
Tax Center - When April 15 rolls around, Firstrade makes it easy to keep your taxes in order. The Tax Center link under My Accounts has useful information and links for seeing how your investing activity can affect your taxes. Find tax forms to download, or link directly to popular personal finance software like Quicken. You can also import your account information into TurboTax to make tax filing easier.
Trading Stocks & Funds
Order Status - You can trade a variety of asset types with Firstrade, using simple to complex order instructions. Your filled and pending orders will appear on the Order Status screen under the Trading tab. If you need to modify or cancel an open order you can do that here, as well as see the price levels of your trade executions.
Stocks/ETFs - When you're ready to trade stocks, go to the Stocks/ETFs screen under the Trading tab. Use the straightforward order entry ticket to enter your trade details. Click on Find Symbol if you need help locating a ticker. When you enter the ticker you want, a quote box will appear just below the order entry details to give you a better idea of where the market is before you trade. Click Preview to make sure you have everything correct before sending, or else click on the Send Order button to take the order straight to the market.
Options - With Firstrade you can trade single options as well as strategies involving multiple legs, such as spreads and straddles. Choose the sort of strategy you want from the dropdown menu and then enter the info into the order ticker.
Options – Select Strategy - Build you own options strategy or use the Select Strategy dropdown menu to trade a pre-loaded options strategy, such as straddles, butterflies, condors, or rolls.
Options – Option Chain - If you're not sure which options you want to trade, click on the Get Option Chain link just under the symbol box on the options order ticket to view the prices and details of the calls and puts that belong to the underlying stock. Choose which expiration you want from the dropdown, and click on an option to load it into the order ticket.
Options – Options Wizard - Firstrade teamed up with OptionsPlay on this feature, which can help you create an options strategy and then trade it. Click on the blue Options Wizard button to the right of the order ticket to get started. With the OptionsPlay tools, you can assess the risk/reward profile of a particular strategy. If you don't want to start from scratch, you can also use options trading strategies prepared for you by the Wizard's scanner. When you're ready to trade an options strategy, click on a Trade button and it will populate your order ticket.
Trading Debt Securities
Mutual Funds - If you're a mutual fund fancier, Firstrade makes it simple to buy and sell thousands of funds from many of the top fund families. Browse by family or enter the ticker symbol and dollar amount you want to invest, and you're ready to go. Once you've loaded a ticker, click View Prospectus for all the details on the fund you're about to buy.
Fixed Income - One great feature of Firstrade is its access to various bond markets. You can purchase U.S. Treasuries, corporate bonds, municipals, and even certificates of deposit (CDs) for your account. Click on Fixed Income under the Trading tab to get started. First, you'll see a list of Quick Picks. You'll also see a sub-menu under the Fixed Income heading; the Buy/Search tab is where to find the bond that you want to trade. For this example, let's say we want to buy some Treasury STRIPS.
Fixed Income – Buy/Search - After choosing the STRIPS & Zeros option under Buy/Search, you can search for a particular zero-coupon bond, or else browse among many. To find only those issued by the U.S. government, click the Treasury STRIPS box and then Find Bonds to see the results.
Trading – Fixed Income – Search Results - The bonds that fit your criteria appear on this page. Sort the list by size, issuer, maturity, or yield and click on the bond you're most interested in to view the issue description and enter a trade ticket.
Fixed Income – Results Description - After you've selected a particular bond, enter the quantity you'd like, click on Calculate to see how much the trade will cost you, and then on Preview to review and submit your order.
Fixed Income – Sell/Request Bid - If you want to sell bonds that you already own, click on the Sell/Request Bid tab and enter the bond's CUSIP number. Click on Preview and then Request Bid to find available prices to sell your positions.
Fixed Income – Order Status - Your bond orders will appear under the Fixed Income Order Status tab. You can search by bond type or for a specific issue, as well as cancel or modify open orders.
Fixed Income – New Issues - If you're the kind of bond investor who likes to buy new issues, the New Issues tab under Trading/Fixed Income will bring up a list of ones that are available to you. Click on an issuer to see more information about the bond, or on the Prospectus link for an in-depth view of the bond.
Fixed Income – Bond Calculator - The Bond Calculator will help you figure out the costs, fees, payments, and other details of a particular bond you might be considering.
Conditional Orders - In addition to simple market, limit, and stop orders, you can also enter conditional orders: One cancels the other (OCO) or one triggers the other (OTO). These order types are used if filling one order cancels a second standing order or activates it. You'll find this kind of order ticket under its own link in the Trading menu.
Stock Trading & Investing
Stocks - Click on the Stocks link to bring up an overview of equity market data and top stories.
Stocks – Stock Research – Quote - For in-depth research and analytics on a particular stock, click on the Stock Research link to load up a detailed summary and price quote. Under the quote, you'll see a new menu bar with tabs that relate to that symbol. Scroll down to view a snapshot of company stats, ratios, financials, analysts' opinions, and more.
Stocks – Charts - If you're a fan of technical analysis, click on the Charts tab in the Stock Research screen. You can overlay indicators and comparisons, annotate, draw on the chart, and more.
Stocks – News - Company-specific news and headlines are available under the News tab in the Stock Research screen. You can filter by news source and date range, then click on a headline to open the full news story.
Stocks – Analysis - The Analysis tab will bring up the latest analyst report for you to read in depth, along with a synopsis of bullish and bearish talking points. You can look back at the Archive to see how these analyst forecasts have performed historically. The Performance tab lets you see past stock performance relative to earnings metrics and relevant benchmarks. The Industry Peers link gives you a breakdown of how this company has performed compared to the rest of its sector.
Stocks – Financials - More a fan of fundamental analysis? The Financials tab will bring you to the company's financial statements, including its balance sheet and income statement, both current and going back historically. You can toggle between dollar amount or percentage of total for the data columns, or see each row as a chart to track a metric's change over time. You can also export these reports as a .csv to pore over at a later time. The Filings link lets you download annual and quarterly reports issued by the company.
Stocks – Valuation - If you want to compare a company's earnings and performance to its industry peers or to the broader market, the Valuation tab provides a nice summary of key relative pricing ratios and statistics over time. The Key Ratios link summarizes a number of important valuation measures for the company in a single page.
Stocks – Insiders – Overview - Company insiders – like the CEO, top managers, or board members – probably know more about a company's prospects than even dedicated professional analysts. Observing insider trading behavior can therefore be a crucial indicator of a company's future health. The Insiders tab in the Stock Research screen will bring up an overview of market-wide insider activity and CEO compensation over the past few years. You can use the Insider Search Tool to learn what a particular insider has bought or sold lately.
Stocks – Insiders – Activity - To view the insider activity for an individual stock that you've already selected, click on the Activity link just under the menu bar to see a history of transactions and a holdings summary for top insiders. The Board link brings up bios of the current Board of Directors; clicking on a director will bring up a more detailed biography, along with other board affiliations.
ETFs – Quote - If you want to figure out which ETFs are right for you, use the ETFs module in the Research & Tools menu. The Quote provides you with an overview of the ETF's price, performance, and asset allocation, as well as an analysis by Morningstar, and more. The Chart and News tab brings up charts and headlines similar to those in the stocks section.
ETFs – Operation - For a quick look at an ETF's key metrics – such as net assets, turnover rate, and net expense ratio – the Operation tab is the place to go. You can also see when an ETF was founded and get general contact info for the fund provider.
ETFs – Ratings & Risk - Is an ETF worth the risk? Is it tracking its benchmark well? Is it expensive relative to other ETFs with the same strategy? The Ratings & Risk tab, along with the Performance tab, will give you answers to those questions and more.
ETFs – Performance - With the Performance tab, you can compare how a particular ETF has performed against its benchmark or assign your own benchmark if you choose.
ETFs – Portfolio – Style/Allocation - Curious about what's going on inside a particular ETF? The Portfolio tab lets you take a deep look. You'll notice a new set of links under the quote menu bar, giving you access to information such as the fund's investment strategy and style. You can break down the ETF's holdings by sector or region, look at its individual holdings, and track to see if and how it has drifted from its stated strategy over time.
ETFs – Portfolio – Sectors/Stats - Click on Sectors/Stats to see which sectors are in an ETF's holdings and to make sure that lines up with your expectations. You can also compare its holdings to its benchmark sector weights.
ETFs – Portfolio – Holdings - You can drill down and view every holding an ETF owns, by weight, and also see how those individual pieces have performed. Along the top of the page you'll see important numbers regarding the ETF's turnover rate and concentration in its top 10 holdings.
ETFs – Portfolio – Regions - To see the breakdown of an ETF's holdings by geographic location and compare that to its benchmark or peers, click on Regions.
ETFs – Portfolio – History - Use the History view to track how well an ETF has stayed on target to its stated investment strategy over time – or whether it has drifted off from its benchmark. You can visualize the drift with a style box or crunch the historical data going back a few years.
Mutual Fund Investing
Mutual Funds – Quote - If mutual funds are your thing, head over to the Mutual Funds module under Research & Tools. Here you'll find a full suite of tools and analytics to track the price, performance, risk, and expenses associated with a particular fund. If you want to learn more about a fund, click on the Prospectus & Filings link that appears above the fund menu bar.
Mutual Funds – Expenses - Unlike stocks or ETFs, mutual funds may have transaction fees or loads in addition to management expenses and other costs. The Expenses tab will spell out exactly what fees are involved with a fund, and how that compares to its peers.
Mutual Funds – Purchase - The Purchase tab will show you the minimum dollar amount you need to invest in a fund, which may differ depending on whether or not it's for a retirement account.
Markets & News - Firstrade has a host of research, screeners, and tools. Markets & News, found under the Research & Tools menu tab is a summary of the day's market activity and top headlines. A menu box on the left-hand side lets you zero in on a more specific topic or range of data. For example, the Most Actives link shows you the day's movers, or look at the Market Heatmap for a breakdown of movers by industry sector. Real Time News provides up-to-the-minute headlines, and the Analyst Blog offers relevant opinion and commentary.
Analyst Research - Are you a bit of a data nerd? If so, check out the Analyst Research section under Research & Tools. This page is chock-full of downloadable reports written by Wall Street's leading analysts. Search for a particular company, view analysis on a single sector, expand your view to the macro economy, or focus in on mutual funds or ETFs. If you've got the time and interest, these research reports will provide you with hours upon hours of reading.
Stocks Screener - With literally thousands of stocks to choose from, the Stocks Screener tool can help you narrow your universe of potential investments to a much more manageable size. The screener lets you filter and screen based on a large number of metrics – or you can use pre-defined screeners if you don't want to build your own. Toggle along the top to change your screener to look for stocks, ETFs, or mutual funds.
Alerts - If you're worried about large price swings or changes to your portfolio balance, you can set up email alerts. Click on the Alerts option under Research & Tools to create and change your alerts.
Education & Resources
Retirement & Planning - Head over to the Retirement & Planning section for online resources, tutorials, tips, and calculators to plan for your future. Sub-sections are tailored toward individual goals such as retirement, college savings, business planning, and more.
Personal Finance – Financial Planning Calculators - In the Personal Finance area of Retirement & Planning you'll find an assortment of resources on money matters. That includes a bunch of really useful calculators to help figure out how much money you need to save for retirement or college, what your net worth currently is, how long it'll take you to become a millionaire (if you aren't there yet), and more.
Education - The Education tab takes you to the Education Center, which offers a wealth of information for beginner investors. Use the menu bar along the top to learn about the different asset classes, such as stocks, ETFs, and options. Each of these sections also comes with a short instructional video.
Upcoming IPOs - Tucked away in the Education section is a list of Upcoming IPOs. If you're the type of investor who likes the thrill of getting in early on investments, this calendar tell you what to keep your eye on.
Extended Hours Trading - U.S. equity markets generally close at 4 p.m Eastern Standard Time, but with Extended Hours Trading, you can buy and sell stocks all through the night and into the wee hours. This is particularly useful if you want to trade a company with an earnings announcement that happens after the bell. After-hours trades are still $4.95 per trade, but only limit orders are allowed.
Securities Lending Income Program - One unique feature of Firstrade is its Securities Lending Income Program. This service lets you earn some extra passive income by lending out your shares to short sellers in the market. (When investors sell short, they borrow shares and must pay interest on them. Firstrade lets you earn that interest.) You can find the link to the program on the company's web page or from your account Home.
Contact Us - The Contact Us page under Customer Service has the info you need to talk with a live person or interact with one via live chat instead. You'll also find relevant email and mailing addresses here.
FAQs - If you prefer to figure things out on your own, check the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section to see if your question has already been answered.
Sitemap - Still can't find what you're looking for after reading this introductory guide? The Sitemap might point you in the right direction.